Insurance giant Prudential has fired an employee accused of telling a Korean-American social media star to “go back to Wuhan” while at a California restaurant, company officials said.
Prudential Financial announced Tuesday it had terminated the man – identified as James Hilbrant – over video footage of the Sept. 12 encounter at the Bluewater Grill in Newport Beach went viral.
“After thoroughly investigating the incident in Newport Beach, we have made the decision to end our relationship with the financial representative involved,” Prudential tweeted.
Entrepreneur Sophia Chang said a man she later identified as Hilbrant made direct eye contact with her and her sister while the pair ate dinner and said “go back to Wuhan” as he headed to the bathroom.
“Once he returned, we asked him why he would say that and he goes, ‘I don’t speak Chinese, I don’t know what you’re talking about,’” Chang wrote on Instagram.
Chang, a beauty and fashion expert who co-founded a clothing line and has nearly 900,000 YouTube subscribers, posted video of a subsequent exchange with Hilbrant, who denied making the comment before returning to his own table.
Three days later, Chang, who has 544,000 Instagram followers, identified Hilbrant as the “racist” she claims insulted her while sharing screenshots of his LinkedIn and Facebook profiles.
“When the manager approached him, it looked like he was denying everything,” Chang wrote. “However, when the staff was not around James would stare us down with this look as if he knew he just got away with what he said. I will never forget that moment and it replays over and over in my head.”
Prudential issued a statement the same day saying it had “zero tolerance” for discrimination while promising to investigate Chang’s claims.
“This matter will be thoroughly investigated and appropriate action will be taken, as warranted,” the company tweeted.
Attempts to reach Hilbrant Friday were unsuccessful.